Low back pain does not discriminate. It affects everyone, at any age, for a variety of reasons. Low back pain affects people’s work, daily routine, and recreation. Americans spend about $50 billion or more each year on low back pain. It is the most common reason for job related disability and is the leading contributor for missed work. Low back pain is also the second most common neurological illness in the United States, with headache being the most common. Thankfully, the majority of occurrences of low back pain disappear within a few days. Others lead to more serious conditions or even take much longer to clear up.

Short-term or acute low back pain lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Acute low back pain is automatic in nature, which is a result from any disorder like arthritis, or from trauma to the lower back. Trauma pain can be caused by sports injury, work in the garden or around the house, or sudden jolts from car accidents or other incidents, or other stress on the spinal tissues and bones. Symptoms of low back pain can range from muscle ache to stabbing or shooting pain, limited range of motion and flexibility, and even the inability to stand up straight. Sometimes, the pain felt in one part of the body can be from a disorder or injury elsewhere in the body. Acute pain syndromes can become much more serious if it goes untreated.

Bone strength and muscle elasticity and tone tend to decrease as people age. The discs in the back begin to lose flexibility and fluid, and that decreases the ability to cushion the vertebrae.

Low back pain can occur when someone overstretches or lifts something that is too heavy, causing strain, sprain, or spasm in one of the muscles or ligaments in the lower back. If the spine becomes overly strained or compressed, the disc that is affected can rupture or bulge outward. This rupture may put pressure on one of more than fifty nerves that are rooted to the spinal cord that control body movements and send signals from the body to the brain. When these nerve roots are compressed or irritated in any way, back pain, including low back pain, can occur.

Low back pain can reflect muscle or nerve irritation or bone lesions. While often times, low back pain follows injury or trauma to the back, it can also be caused by viral infections, irritation to joints and discs, degenerative conditions such as disc disease or arthritis, osteoporosis or other bone diseases, or congenital abnormalities of the spine. Smoking, obesity, weight gain during pregnancy, poor physical condition, stress, bad posture for the activity being performed, and even poor sleeping positions can contribute to low back pain. In addition, scar tissue from a previously injured back does not have the flexibility or strength of normal, healthy tissue. Build up of this scar tissue from previous injuries will weaken the back and lead to more serious injury.

Sometimes low back pain may mean a more serious medical problem. Pain that is accompanied by fever or loss of bladder or bowel control, pain when coughing, and weakness in the legs may indicate a pinched nerve or other serious problem. Diabetics can have severe low back pain or leg pains related to neuropathy. Those with these symptoms should contact their doctor to help prevent more permanent damage.